Cream of the crop John de­liv­ers tales from 43 years as a milk­man

Gloucestershire Echo - - IN BRIEF - Jes­sica MERCER jes­[email protected]­

THREE days a week, John Wakefield gets up at 2.30am for his reg­u­lar shift in Chel­tenham town cen­tre.

He drives in pitch black dark­ness and ar­rives at the of­fice at 3am and makes him­self a cof­fee.

He says: “The early morn­ing are the best part of the day, to be hon­est.

“Back in the day you started at five in the morn­ing.”

John, 73, is one of Chel­tenham’s long­est-serv­ing milk­men and has been work­ing for Cotteswold Dairy since 1976.

Grow­ing up in the town, John wished to be a po­lice­man when he was older.

How­ever, his hopes were dashed when he didn’t get the grades to qual­ify for the con­stab­u­lary.

John says: “I was sad but then a friend told me about an ad in the news­pa­per for some­one to work at the Cotteswold Dairy.

“They were look­ing for some­one in the fac­tory, so I went for it.”

Cotteswold Dairy de­liv­ers across the county - but Chel­tenham is the only place you’ll find an old-fash­ioned milk float driv­ing around in the early hours.

John is one of six milk­men that take their route around Chel­tenham, cov­er­ing var­i­ous ar­eas from Lans­down to Lyn­worth and de­liv­er­ing prod­ucts such as milk, cheese, bread and butter to res­i­dents in town.

Although there are less milk­men than there were 50 years ago, it’s be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar due to the pref­er­ence of glass bot­tles over plas­tic.

In the past 20 years, Cotteswold Dairy seen pop­u­lar­ity for res­i­den­tial milk de­liv­ery in­crease by 75 per cent.

“I would say it’s been in the last three years that we’ve seen an in­crease.

“One women said that her daugh­ter asked her ‘why do you have a milk­man when you can just go to Sains­bury’s?’

“But she said ‘if I go in there I’ll come out with a cake and bis­cuits, which I don’t re­ally want.’

“So she’s sav­ing two quid from buy­ing some­thing else as well”

As we too­tle around the streets of

Chel­tenham, it be­comes clear that John is a well-known and well-liked mem­ber of the com­mu­nity as early ris- ers wave and shout from the foot­path and the win­dows of their cars.

Go­ing past on the bumpy ride around Pitville Park, there’s a sense that John knows ev­ery­one and ev­ery­one knows him.

He says that this is part of why he loves it so much: “It’s a so­cial job, that’s why it’s great.

“You get talk­ing to peo­ple all the time on the route.”

Res­i­dents fre­quently ask John to help them out with odd jobs and at six-footone, he is fre­quently asked to reach up to cup­boards.

How­ever, the ef­fect of John’s re­la­tion­ship to his cus­tomers truly came through even more so in one of the most dif­fi­cult times of his life.

John was di­ag­nosed with prostate cancer in 2017, and was then told that he would need to take at least a month off from work.

He says: “I only took the month off and then I was do­ing three days a week.” John says that his ill­ness was “very dif­fi­cult” but was made eas­ier sur­rounded by fam­ily in­clud­ing his wife and three daugh­ters, of whom one lives next door, an­other in Derby and an­other lives with him and his wife at home.

John de­liv­ers to all kinds of peo­ple with is­sues such as blind­ness, where he has learnt how to nav­i­gate the com­mu­ni­ca­tion meth­ods to de­liver milk to them safely and at the same time keep up a friend­ship with them.

He says that when he started the job, a lot more house­wives would greet him at the door.

How­ever, as the years go on and the tide changes, he says: “You see far less of that, be­cause you have women go­ing out to work and need­ing to help to pay the mort­gage, which is fair enough”.

John says that there used to be more women do­ing milk rounds back in the day.

He says: “Back then, thirty years ago, you had ‘women’s rounds’ which started at about half past four or five o’clock, be­fore their hus­band went to work and they could fin­ish in time to take the kids to school.”

In the day-to-day run­ning of the milk round, John oc­ca­sion­ally runs into is­sues of petty theft.

He says: “Some­times you have to be care­ful putting the milk on the step, be­cause young peo­ple out and about who have had a cou­ple of drinks can nick them.

“Then you get your boss say­ing ‘You haven’t de­liv­ered milk to such-and­such on such-and-such a day,’ but you have - it’s just been nicked.”

Although the start is early and the rounds can be long, John says to this day, he loves it: “Peo­ple say ‘You’re crack­ers, 72 years old and still do­ing this!’”

“One day body will say to me ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’ - but not just yet.”

John Wakefield has been de­liv­er­ing milk since 1976

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